Guest Post from Dr. Ben Springer, Director of Special Education, Wasatch County School District
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you are special education administrator. If you are a special education administrator, allow me to thank you. The 2020-21 school year has been daunting for everyone, but for many special education administrators, we were rocked to the core. So, if you survived, and you’re reading this—thank you.
Thank you for keeping services running for kids eligible for special education.
Thank you for advocating for at-risk student populations.
Thank you for caring for your personnel during these intensely challenging times.
In order truly offer my thanks, I’d need to get you to a tropical beach away from reports, complaints, and your phone. Since I don’t have that capacity (at the moment), the only thing I can realistically offer is a tiny bit of help (I hope) as you attempt to brave the wilderness of special education in this whacky COVID-19 Era.
As special education administrators, staffing and the provision of FAPE in the LRE is basically our jam. (If you had the year I had, that “jam” was more like “jelly.”) One thing that helped me get through (even prior to the pandemic) was utilizing remote related services (e.g., online speech therapy, OT, PT, etc.) Prior to dabbling into the world of online related services for students, I always struggled staffing our programs. I tried everything, but as many of you know, coordinating related services can be a lot like herding cats. It’s not that related service providers are difficult—quite the contrary. They’re wonderful! In fact, it is precisely because they are so wonderful that we do everything we can to accommodate them. However, accommodating multiple personnel across multiple contracts during a national shortage can be a lot. (If we’re being honest, it can be too much.)
Anyway, in an effort to help, I wanted to offer this tidbit of advice: Go for it. Adopt remote services for your school district. Our jobs are hard enough. Five years ago, I considered my utilization of remote therapy as an act of desperation. Today, it I consider it visionary. When the pandemic hit, we knew how to do remote work. We were staffed, prepped and ready—and we still continue to be staffed, prepped and ready.
While adopting something new can always be challenging, allow me to share my “Top 5” lessons learned for successfully adopting remote services to support students and teams in school settings:
Apples to Apples. Good remote services should be held to the same standard as good face-to-face services. Remote service providers must be given every opportunity to participate alongside our “brick and mortar” services. Whether that be PLCs, professional learning, or IEP file management. The comparison is not apples to oranges—its apples-to-apples.
Relationships still work. When we’re not physically interacting or “rubbing elbows” with folks we can become distant, isolated, and communication can break down. That’s a real risk in adopting remote services. Just take some time to build relationships with the remote service providers and help them feel part of a team.
Get feedback from parents, students, and your face-to-face staff. We should be totally transparent about why we’re using remote services: i.e., shortages and program stability. Then, we should get stakeholder feedback on how it’s working. We learned a lot the first time we surveyed kids and parents. We learn a lot when we hear from our face-to-face personnel, too. Feedback improves performance.
Pick your poison. A common refrain I hear from my colleagues about moving to remote therapy is the cost. I get it. However, if you haven’t learned this lesson yet, you will: When it comes to special education, what you don’t pay for now, you end up paying double for later. In other words, paying for adequate services right now is always less expensive than paying for the legal implications of years of inadequate services.
It’s about the kids. If remote services aren’t helping kids, then we should stop using them. If they are helping kids, we should continue to use them. We live in a crazy time where remote technology is rapidly developing and becoming more innovative and user-friendly. These services really can help kids and that is what its all about.
Stay safe out there, I hope you take some time off and relax.
Sincerely, your pal
About the Author
Dr. Ben Springer is an award winning and Nationally Certified School Psychologist. Ben is also the author of the popular book, “Happy Kids Don’t Punch You in the Face” (2018) and his latest release, “GPS: Good Parenting Strategies: The No-Guilt Survival Guide for Parenting During the Pandemic and Beyond” (2021). Ben received his Master’s and Doctoral Degrees from the University of Utah in Educational Psychology. Ben studied Autism Spectrum Disorders, Social Skills Instruction, Applied Behavioral Analysis, Parent Training, and Evidence Based Practice. Currently, Ben works as the director of special education in Wasatch County School District located in Heber City, Utah. In 2017, Ben created Totem PD, a professional development company for educators and mental health practitioners working with school-age children.